Capitol’s constituency has a room of its own
The Public Access Room at the state Capitol gives everyone a voice in their government, no matter the issue or political party.
This session, it was busier than ever.
The access room -- unique among the states -- has received and churned out more than 7,000 testimonies for the public so far this session, the highest ever. Last year, there were 4,200 testimonies.
Its purpose is to provide a link between the public and the government. The access room empowers everyone, said coordinator Suzanne Marinelli.
The access room (Room 401) is an information hub, especially for the neighbor islands.
The room acts as a studio for the live closed-circuit Capitol TV (channels 49-53), which airs hearings and other activities in the Capitol.
Only four years ago live hearings were unavailable on neighbor islands. Now they are live and taped for later play. Neighbor island residents can communicate through e-mailed testimony and view proceedings in on-air hearings.
A partially deaf man, Art Frank, is one of the most frequent users of the access room, and he helped create it.
"I love this place," Frank said, adding that it is a good way to get "education on how the government works."
The 63-year-old leans his cane on the desk while he works on testimony, which he was unable to do when he started out as a lobbyist for disabilities groups at the Capitol 30 years ago. "When I started here in '81, there was no place to work," Frank said.
The beauty of the access room might be its impartiality.
In the late 1990s, people packed the room preparing testimony for same-sex marriage bills. Many were for and many against, and all were opinionated. But, Marinelli remembers, "There were supporters and opposers sitting there at the table together sharing information."
That process calls for two year-round and three full-time session employees and lots of paper. In one record-breaking seven-week period, the copy machine tally climbed to 300,000.
The closest thing to Hawaii's access room is Kentucky's public bill room, which distributes bills and explains legislative language, all of which have their fee; to receive all bills and resolutions costs $630 a session. There is a similar system in Oregon. But Hawaii residents can get the same kind of information for free.
The Hawaii access room also teaches people how to write testimony through outreach sessions and classes held at the room.
Not counting salaries, the budget for the room is $24,300. In the last few years the access room's budget has remained stable but is "too little every year," according to Marinelli.